history advertising



Any discussion of COLORISM that leaves out the historical context of WHITE SUPREMACY lets white people off the hook for THEIR racial obsessions, results in us blaming our fellow Black victims for the crimes of our oppressors and, ultimately, will fail to lead toward the BLACK UNITY necessary for our psychic liberation from said COLORISM.

Episode 729: When Subaru Came Out
Subaru's sales had been slumping for years. So the car company took a big risk and targeted a group of consumers that just about everyone else was ignoring.

Or: How Subaru Marketed to Lesbians Without Straight People Realising What Was Up

VANEK SMITH: They kind of settled into a plan where they would use references that were obvious to gay and lesbian consumers but not really to anybody else.

NASH: And at the time, there was - “Xena: Warrior Princess” was a show that was airing, like, on the WB network or something. And the lesbians loved Lucy Lawless, and everybody loved Xena. So one of the license plates was going to be Xena Lover - X-E-N-A-L-V-R. One of them was P-Townie - P-townie and the…

KING: For Provincetown.

NASH: For Provincetown - and the other one was camp out.

KING: It was so subtle. The message was there, but you would have to look at the license plate on the car in the picture in the print ad to get it.

KING: Amy went to college in small-town Kentucky in a place that was not especially friendly to gay people. She did not have an easy time. And then after school, she moved to Washington, D.C., and one day, she’s in Dupont Circle, and she sees this Subaru ad.

KNOPF: And I remember seeing this ad on a bus stop that said, it’s not a choice. It’s the way we’re born. And it made me smile.

KING: It made her smile because it was talking to her. It’s not a choice. It’s the way we’re born. She knew exactly what that ad was saying, and not everyone would have known exactly what that ad was saying. It was an inside joke, and Amy was finally on the inside.

Poster by NATO, 1950, encouraging the nations of Europe to cooperate. The Americans, through NATO and the Marshall Plan, invested quite a bit of energy and resources into both breaking down divisions between European nations and supporting their economies. Of course, this was not done out of pure altruism – support from the Americans helped to ward off the spread of communism.


This 1903 pamphlet for the patent medicine Ma-Le-Na is a recent (and terrific) addition to our Published Collections. In it, we learn about both the dangers of constipation and exotic birds, tied together with the most interesting segues. For example, did you know that “The kick of the ostrich kills, but the death is no more certain and far less painful than the lingering - living death caused by constipation”?  

1928 advertisement for Listerine. This ad campaign resurrected the word “halitosis” for bad breath (it was an old Latin term that doctors did not use anymore). By turning bad breath into a medical-sounding condition (and associating it with social disaster), Listerine was able to scare people into buying their product for breath-freshening purposes (it had previously been used as a cleaner and disinfectant).